Somewhat by request, and in response to some points made in the interim, I am revisiting the topic of social media. You can read my previous foray here.
I’m going to step back and speak a bit more generally this time. My hypothetical audience is the media curmudgeon – not afraid to use the computer, not unaware of the advantages of computing in the office, but otherwise cynical about news reported from a non-traditional source, namely blogs, social networking sites, and anything otherwise not dispensed via newspaper, radio or television.
The Buzz: Non-traditional media is stupider or more obnoxious than the vanishing outlets of newsprint and television.
The Anti-Buzz: Non-traditional media can be stupider and more obnoxious, but this is because non-traditional media is more everything. Blogs and social networking sites are just more – period.
Why: Traditional media is one percent of the population talking about the world. Non-traditional media is 100 percent of the population talking about the world. Figure it out.
When discussing something like social media, my genuine expertise level dips significantly. Yes, it is enabled by computers, but really we’re analyzing the behavior of people when we talk about social media. I’d like to think some wisdom still drops from my mouth, but knowing how to translate binary into hexadecimal doesn’t really bear on predicting what a Cubs fan is going to do with his mySpace page.
Also, I run the risk of sounding political, philosophical or just plain ol’ biased and opinionated this time around. This is both a fair warning and a cue for me to clear my throat — *ahem*
My viewpoint is pretty much in line with the Phillip Converse rhetoric from the 1960s. To paraphrase him: journalists comprise something like less than 1% of the population, and their jobs consist largely of talking to each other at the water cooler inside their ivory towers, generalizing their insulated opinions into “public opinion” and then telling the public what their opinion on world affairs is, based on these lazy backroom chats.
Yes, this is a very harsh, even cruel thing to say about an entire profession, but it is no less cruel than the assumptions that get made about youth culture, anarchistic media outlets such as twitter, and the average intelligence of everybody who uses things you don’t. If you can say facebook is nothing more than a cacophany of stupid people whining about their insipid problems, then I can say traditional journalism is nothing more than a narcissistic waste of language. Deal? Deal.
Case in point: you are reading this blog, and I’m pretty sure my father takes better care of you than newsprint ever did.
So, with that unpleasantness behind us, let’s discuss the topic at hand.
What is Social Media?
A simple question deserves a simple answer: Social Media is a party that never ends!
I’m being cute, but really, you can drop in whenever you want, have conversations with a variety of people, learn new things, and maybe cringe a little on the occasion you get cornered by a stranger who won’t shut up.
A more literal answer is that most social media sites follow this basic design:
You, (or your business), have a profile that lists things about you. You make friends/fans and you get a list of things these people say. You can also say things, and thusly all of your friends see what you say in juxtaposition with all the things their other friends are saying. Each of these “said things” can act as a conversation starter, and responses to it are associated with your post instead of treated as normal “broadcasts” and in this way people can get to talking about a subject without spamming up everybody’s reading list. These sites often have private message capacities of some sort. Facebook takes the cake by adding in a live chat client, but all of them have something that functions similar to e-mail as well.
If you envision social media as some sort of parlor where people swirl their brandy snifters and discuss Proust, then admittedly you are being way too optimistic. Conversely, if you envision an unmitigated spam/vulgarity fest then you are being too negative.
I won’t lie to you and tell you that unpleasantness never happens. Facebook is an excellent way to discover how many of your friends are terrible spellers. A good deal of fluff exists in these networks. You will face peddlers and trolls, and learn things about your friends that you wish you hadn’t. If you are upset by the fact that on this planet there are billions of people and some of them are imperfect, then I suggest you find the nearest ivory tower, hunker down, and talk at us through the television. Or you could “lighten up.”
Social Media hasn’t changed the way people socialize, it’s just made it more efficient. And yes, unfortunately, that efficiency applies to vulgar rants, selfish cries for attention, and fart jokes. If you think new technology has made people more obnoxious and vulgar, then I say that is just your resistance-to-change talking. People have always been this obnoxious and vulgar. Now they do it at the speed of light.
The simple fact that “unpleasantness will occur” is, quietly, the biggest fear for those leaving traditional media. For better and worse, traditional media delivers a very filtered and sanitized product. One could say this is the very thing that robs it of its humanity, but it also makes your job very easy. All you have to do is hit the lever, get your pellet of information, and you can be sure that it will not contain typos, racial slurs, or pleas from some Nigerian millionaire. If you like pellets, this is a pretty good deal.
A recurring theme of this column, this blog, and any other source that encourages the use of new technology is that users are responsible for their own experience. Unpleasantness is yours to shrug off, prevent, report, or destroy. You get to pick your friends – and if the social pressures of rejecting friendships gets to be too much, you can group your “friends” into categories and diminish the cacophony.
Now, you are a dentist, and I would hope that you are therefore a reasonable and intelligent person. Ideally, most of your customers too are reasonable and intelligent people. So, if you don’t want spam and stupidity on your facebook, why should your customers? Fearing that your business will be lost in a sea of vulgarity is silly. The sort of people your social media efforts are targeting are the sort of people who know how to keep their reading lists clean. Trust me.
The real benefit, as has been belabored in weeks passed, is that a presence in a social network lets you trade old-fashioned junk-mailings with useful and personalized contact with your customers – provided, of course, that you can put a little extra time and effort into the endeavor.
That this column ends with a call for you to do things for yourself and take responsibility should come as no surprise.